CHAPTER TWELVE: THE DARK ISLAND
AFTER this adventure they sailed on south and a little east for twelve days with a gentle wind, the skies being mostly clear and the air warm, and saw no bird or fish, except that once there were whales spouting a long way to starboard. Lucy and Reepicheep played a good deal of chess at this time. Then on the thirteenth day, Edmund, from the fighting top, sighted what looked like a great dark mountain rising out of the sea on their port bow.
They altered course and made for this land, mostly by oar, for the wind would not serve them to sail north-east. When evening fell they were still a long way from it and rowed all night. Next morning the weather was fair but a flat calm. The dark mass lay ahead, much nearer and larger, but still very dim, so that some thought it was still a long way off and others thought they were running into a mist.
About nine that morning, very suddenly, it was so close that they could see that it was not land at all, nor even, in an ordinary sense, a mist. It was a Darkness. It is rather hard to describe, but you will see what it was like if you imagine yourself looking into the mouth of a railway tunnel – a tunnel either so long or so twisty that you cannot see the light at the far end. And you know what it would be like. For a few feet you would see the rails and sleepers and gravel in broad daylight; then there would come a place where they were in twilight; and then, pretty suddenly, but of course without a sharp dividing line, they would vanish altogether into smooth, solid blackness. It was just so here. For a few feet in front of their bows they could see the swell of the bright greenish-blue water. Beyond that, they could see the water looking pale and grey as it would look late in the evening. But beyond that again, utter blackness as if they had come to the edge of moonless and starless night.
Caspian shouted to the boatswain to keep her back, and all except the rowers rushed forward and gazed from the bows. But there was nothing to be seen by gazing. Behind them was the sea and the sun, before them the Darkness.
“Do we go into this?” asked Caspian at length.
“Not by my advice,” said Drinian.
“The Captain’s right,” said several sailors.
“I almost think he is,” said Edmund.
Lucy and Eustace didn’t speak but they felt very glad inside at the turn things seemed to be taking. But all at once the clear voice of Reepicheep broke in upon the silence.
“And why not?” he said. “Will someone explain to me why not.”
No one was anxious to explain, so Reepicheep continued:
“If I were addressing peasants or slaves,” he said, “I might suppose that this suggestion proceeded from cowardice. But I hope it will never be told in Narnia that a company of noble and royal persons in the flower of their age turned tail because they were afraid of the dark.”
“But what manner of use would it be ploughing through that blackness?” asked Drinian.
“Use?” replied Reepicheep. “Use, Captain? If by use you mean filling our bellies or our purses, I confess it will be no use at all. So far as I know we did not set sail to look for things useful but to seek honour and adventure. And here is as great an adventure as ever I heard of, and here, if we turn back, no tittle impeachment of all our honours.”
Several of the sailors said things under their breath that sounded like “Honour be blowed”, but Caspian said:
“Oh, bother you, Reepicheep. I almost wish we’d left you at home. All right! If you put it that way, I suppose we shall have to go on. Unless Lucy would rather not?”
Lucy felt that she would very much rather not, but what she said out loud was, “I’m game.”
“Your Majesty will at least order lights?” said Drinian.
“By all means,” said Caspian. “See to it, Captain.”
So the three lanterns, at the stern, and the prow and the masthead, were all lit, and Drinian ordered two torches amidships. Pale and feeble they looked in the sunshine. Then all the men except some who were left below at the oars were ordered on deck and fully armed and posted in their battle stations with swords drawn. Lucy and two archers were posted on the fighting top with bows bent and arrows on the string. Rynelf was in the bows with his line ready to take soundings. Reepicheep, Edmund, Eustace and Caspian, glittering in mail, were with him. Drinian took the tiller.
“And now, in Aslan’s name, forward!” cried Caspian. “A slow, steady stroke. And let every man be silent and keep his ears open for orders.”
With a creak and a groan the Dawn Treader started to creep forward as the men began to row. Lucy, up in the fighting top, had a wonderful view of the exact moment at which they entered the darkness. The bows had already disappeared before the sunlight had left the stern. She saw it go. At one minute the gilded stern, the blue sea, and the sky, were all in broad daylight: next minute the sea and sky had vanished, the stern lantern – which had been hardly noticeable before – was the only thing to show where the ship ended. In front of the lantern she could see the black shape of Drinian crouching at the tiller. Down below her the two torches made visible two small patches of deck and gleamed on swords and helmets, and forward there was another island of light on the forecastle. Apart from that, the fighting top, lit by the masthead light which was only just above her, seemed to be a little lighted world of its own floating in lonely darkness. And the lights themselves, as always happens with lights when you have to have them at the wrong time of day, looked lurid and unnatural. She also noticed that she was very cold.
How long this voyage into the darkness lasted, nobody knew. Except for the creak of the rowlocks and the splash of the oars there was nothing to show that they were moving at all. Edmund, peering from the bows, could see nothing except the reflection of the lantern in the water before him. It looked a greasy sort of reflection, and the ripple made by their advancing prow appeared to be heavy, small, and lifeless. As time went on everyone except the rowers began to shiver with cold.
Suddenly, from somewhere – no one’s sense of direction was very clear by now – there came a cry, either of some inhuman voice or else a voice of one in such extremity of terror that he had almost lost his humanity.
Caspian was still trying to speak – his mouth was too dry – when the shrill voice of Reepicheep, which sounded louder than usual in that silence, was heard.
“Who calls?” it piped. “If you are a foe we do not fear you, and if you are a friend your enemies shall be taught the fear of us.”
“Mercy!” cried the voice. “Mercy! Even if you are only one more dream, have merry. Take me on board. Take me, even if you strike me dead. But in the name of all mercies do not fade away and leave me in this horrible land.”
“Where are you?” shouted Caspian. “Come aboard and welcome.”
There came another cry, whether of joy or terror, and then they knew that someone was swimming towards them.
“Stand by to heave him up, men,” said Caspian.
“Aye, aye, your Majesty,” said the sailors. Several crowded to the port bulwark with ropes and one, leaning far out over the side, held the torch. A wild, white face appeared in the blackness of the water, and then, after some scrambling and pulling, a dozen friendly hands had heaved the stranger on board.
Edmund thought he had never seen a wilder-looking man. Though he did not otherwise look very old, his hair was an untidy mop of white, his face was thin and drawn, and, for clothing, only a few wet rags hung about him. But what one mainly noticed were his eyes, which were so widely opened that he seemed to have no eyelids at all, and stared as if in an agony of pure fear. The moment his feet reached the deck he said:
“Fly! Fly! About with your ship and fly! Row, row, row for your lives away from this accursed shore.”
“Compose yourself,” said Reepicheep, “and tell us what the danger is. We are not used to flying.”
The stranger started horribly at the voice of the Mouse, which he had not noticed before.
“Nevertheless you will fly from here,” he gasped. “This is the Island where Dreams come true.”
“That’s the island I’ve been looking for this long time,” said one of the sailors. “I reckoned I’d find I was married to Nancy if we landed here.”
“And I’d find Tom alive again,” said another.
“Fools!” said the man, stamping his foot with rage. “That is the sort of talk that brought me here, and I’d better have been drowned or never born. Do you hear what I say? This is where dreams -dreams, do you understand, come to life, come real. Not daydreams: dreams.”
There was about half a minute’s silence and then, with a great clatter of armour, the whole crew were tumbling down the main hatch as quick as they could and flinging themselves on the oars to row as they had never rowed before; and Drinian was swinging round the tiller, and the boatswain was giving out the quickest stroke that had ever been heard at sea. For it had taken everyone just that halfminute to remember certain dreams they had had – dreams that make you afraid of going to sleep again – and to realize what it would mean to land on a country where dreams come true.
Only Reepicheep remained unmoved.
“Your Majesty, your Majesty,” he said, “are you going to tolerate this mutiny, this poltroonery? This is a panic, this is a rout.”
“Row, row,” bellowed Caspian. “Pull for all our lives. Is her head right, Drinian? You can say what you like, Reepicheep. There are some things no man can face.”
“It is, then, my good fortune not to be a man,” replied Reepicheep with a very stiff bow.
Lucy from up aloft had heard it all. In an instant that one of her own dreams which she had tried hardest to forget came back to her as vividly as if she had only just woken from it. So that was what was behind them, on the island, in the darkness! For a second she wanted to go down to the deck and be with Edmund and Caspian. But what was the use? If dreams began coming true, Edmund and Caspian themselves might turn into something horrible just as she reached them. She gripped the rail of the fighting top and tried to steady herself. They were rowing back to the light as hard as they could: it would be all right in a few seconds. But oh, if only it could be all right now!
Though the rowing made a good deal of noise it did not quite conceal the total silence which surrounded the ship.
Everyone knew it would be better not to listen, not to strain his ears for any sound from the darkness. But no one could help listening. And soon everyone was hearing things. Each one heard something different.
“Do you hear a noise like . . . like a huge pair of scissors opening and shutting .. . over there?” Eustace asked Rynelf.
“Hush!” said Rynelf. “I can hear them crawling up the sides of the ship.”
“It’s just going to settle on the mast,” said Caspian.
“Ugh!” said a sailor. “There are the gongs beginning. I knew they would.”
Caspian, trying not to look at anything (especially not to keep looking behind him), went aft to Drinian.
“Drinian,” he said in a very low voice. “How long did we take rowing in? – I mean rowing to where we picked up . the stranger.”
“Five minutes, perhaps,” whispered Drinian. “Why?”
“Because we’ve been more than that already trying to get out.”
Drinian’s hand shook on the tiller and a line of cold sweat ran down his face. The same idea was occurring to everyone on board. “We shall never get out, never get’ out,” moaned the rowers. “He’s steering us wrong. We’re going round and round in circles. We shall never get out.” The stranger, who had been lying in a huddled heap on the deck, sat up and burst out into a horrible screaming laugh.
“Never get out!” he yelled. “That’s it. Of course. We shall never get out. What a fool I was to have thought they would let me go as easily as that. No, no, we shall never get out.”
Lucy leant her head on the edge of the fighting top and whispered, “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now.” The darkness did not grow any less, but she began to feel a little – a very, very little – better. “After all, nothing has really happened to us yet,” she thought.
“Look!” cried Rynelf’s voice hoarsely from the bows. There was a tiny speck of light ahead, and while they watched a broad beam of light fell from it upon the ship. It did not alter the surrounding darkness, but the whole ship was lit up as if by searchlight. Caspian blinked, stared round, saw the faces of his companions all with wild, fixed expressions. Everyone was staring in the same direction: behind everyone lay his black, sharply-edged shadow.
Lucy looked along the beam and presently saw something in it. At first it looked like a cross, then it looked like an aeroplane, then it looked like a kite, and at last with a whirring of wings it was right overhead and was an albatross. It circled three times round the mast and then perched for an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow. It called out in a strong sweet voice what seemed to be words though no one understood them. After that it spread its wings, rose, and began to fly slowly ahead, bearing a little to starboard. Drinian steered after it not doubting that it offered good guidance. But no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, “Courage, dear heart,” and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.
In a few moments the darkness turned into a greyness ahead, and then, almost before they dared to begin hoping, they had shot out into the sunlight and were in the warm, blue world again. And all at once everybody realized that there was nothing to be afraid of and never had been. They blinked their eyes and looked about them. The brightness of the ship herself astonished them: they had half expected to find that the darkness would cling to the white and the green and the gold in the form of some grime or scum. And then first one, and then another, began laughing.
“I reckon we’ve made pretty good fools of ourselves,” said Rynelf.
Lucy lost no time in coming down to the deck, where she found the others all gathered round the newcomer. For a long time he was too happy to speak, and could only gaze at the sea and the sun and feel the bulwarks and the ropes, as if to make sure he was really awake, while tears rolled down his cheeks.
“Thank you,” he said at last. “You have saved me from . . . but I won’t talk of that. And now let me know who you are. I am a Telmarine of Narnia, and when I was worth anything men called me the Lord Rhoop.”
“And I,” said Caspian, “am Caspian, King of Narnia, and I sail to find you and your companions who were my father’s friends.”
Lord Rhoop fell on his knees and kissed the King’s hand. “Sire,” he said, “you are the man in all the world I most wished to see. Grant me a boon.”
“What is it?” asked Caspian.
“Never to bring me back there,” he said. He pointed astern. They all looked. But they saw only bright blue sea and bright blue sky. The Dark Island and the darkness had vanished for ever.
“Why!” cried Lord Rhoop. “You have destroyed it!”
“I don’t think it was us,” said Lucy.
“Sire,” said Drinian, “this wind is fair for the southeast. Shall I have our poor fellows up and set sail? And after that, every man who can be spared, to his hammock.”
“Yes,” said Caspian, “and let there be grog all round. Heigh-ho, I feel I could sleep the clock round myself.”
So all afternoon with great joy they sailed south-east with a fair wind. But nobody noticed when the albatross had disappeared.